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Gretsch Guitar Connects Past to a New Era of Women

Gretsch Guitar Connects Past to a New Era of Women

By Alessandra Femenias

Sometimes the past can connect with the present to create something totally new…

1966 was an eventful year. The war in Vietnam was escalating, Batman and The Monkees premiered on television, while John Lennon announced the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus”.

The Colonists 1967. Photo: J Etheridge Ward Photography.

Also formed in 1966 were the Colonists, an all-girl rock band from Richmond, Virginia. Teenage guitarists Pat Kennedy and Betsy Cockriel had both been inspired to play music after watching the Beatles’ historic first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.  Two years later, these girls met by chance at a Paul Revere and the Raiders concert in the spring of ‘66 and decided to form a band.  “I wanted a Gretsch because of George Harrison,” says Betsy who would trade her Gretsch Princess for a Gretsch Tennessean.  Pat had already chosen a new Gretsch Model 6123 – best known as a “Monkees Gretsch“.

Pat and Betsy on stage with their Gretsch guitars. 1967. Photo: Robert Earl Cockriel.

The Colonists became a popular band at school dances, country clubs and several military bases where they played for American soldiers about to leave for Vietnam.

In 1969, Pat left the Colonists to pursue other ventures. Her Monkees Gretsch remained untouched for almost 40 years, until the world of eBay brought the guitar out of retirement and found its way to Australia.

Fast forward to 2015 and Chicanery, an all-girl rock band from Sydney, Australia, entered the recording studio with Pat Kennedy’s 1966 Monkees Gretsch. The band recorded their debut single “Open Road” with the guitar which gave the song a tough, vintage rock sound.

“I love vintage guitars, so it was really cool to have the privilege of playing Kennedy’s Gretsch. The fact that the Colonists were an all-girl rock band like us, just makes it even cooler,” says guitarist Alessandra Femenias.

Chicanery (Ellen Martin, Alessandra Femenias, Annique Edye, Natalie Ang, and Rachel Fogarty) with The Colonists’ Gretsch Monkees Guitar. Photo: Larry McGrath.

Like the Colonists 50 years before them, Chicanery was inspired to start a band after attending various concerts across Sydney. Drawing inspiration from Paramore, Fall Out Boy, and Muse, the girls began writing music and posting covers onto their YouTube channel.

“We got together every weekend and started jamming, then later writing music. At the time we were all high school students so a lot of our songs were written about changing, growing up, and both the good and bad friendships we had. It was a really fun, creative outlet for us,” says singer Annique Edye.

Chicanery & Gretsch. Photo: Larry McGrath.

The girls played various venues across Sydney from 2012-2014, both as a full band and acoustic act. However, it was not until 2015 that they decided to take things seriously and recorded “Open Road” backed with a music video of such sheer visceral energy that it continues to catch the attention of thousands of music fans in Australia and the USA.

Now 18-19 years old, Chicanery have matured since their high school days. Their inspirations have broadened and their sound has grown. “Initially, most of us listened to mainly pop-punk music. However, over the years, our music tastes have broadened and we’re inspired by so many genres. I really love artists like Halsey and Melanie Martinez–artists who create concept records. It’s really inspiring,” says Alessandra.

Chicanery are predominately self-taught musicians who drew inspiration from their teenage musical heroes, friends, and family.

Chicanery. Photo: Larry McGrath

“When Chicanery started, I always wanted to play like Chris Wolstenholme from Muse or even learn such fun bass lines as those Paul McCartney played on most Beatles tracks,” says bassist Ellen Martin.  Ellen was inspired to learn to play the bass guitar by her older sister, who also played the instrument. Intrigued by the way a song could be changed by a bass line, she began teaching herself to read tabs and learning simple riffs at the age of 15.

Rhythm guitarist Rachel Fogarty was inspired to pick up the guitar after her older brother began playing songs around the house. “I used to watch him learn songs and then play them until they were perfect. I thought that was really cool, and made me want to pick up a guitar and play too. He still teaches me,” says Rachel.

Lead guitarist Alessandra also cites Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, Kings of Leon, Paramore, and Brand New as her inspirations for picking up the guitar at 14. Alessandra grew up in a musical household. Her parents would play The Eagles, U2, Dire Straits and KISS around the house and in the car. It was this exposure to music at a young age which would inspire her to begin song writing.

Alessandra with Gretsch Monkees Guitar. Photo: Larry McGrath.

Despite all five members currently studying at University, they are determined to continue making music and playing live shows. They are currently recording their debut EP, set for release in late 2016, which will feature both old and new songs.

In the still male-dominated world of rock music, Chicanery are hoping their EP of original songs will help them to go from one small victory to the next, and perhaps one day inspire other teenage girls to follow a simple dream to play music…much like the Colonists did 50 years before them.

As Annique sums up, “Our goal is to inspire people to make music. If we can do it, you can do it”.

More on Chicanery can be found on Facebook.

And check out their debut single “Open Road” music video.

Chicanery on location for Open Road video. Photo: Larry McGrath.